Increasingly, psychologists find that there is one characteristic that emerges as a significant predictor of success, and it is not social intelligence, good looks, physical health, or IQ. It’s grit. It has been said that grit is engaging in life more like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” said American psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth, who currently spearheads some important studies into the role grit plays in success. “Grit is having stamina,” she continues. “Grit is sticking with your future, day-in-day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years and working really hard to make that future a reality.”
Duckworth herself is the first to say that the essence of grit remains elusive; however, the five common characteristics of grit listed below can make things clearer.
When you think of courage you may think of physical bravery, but there are many other forms of courage. After all, courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. Examples of courage include taking a chance when others will not; following your vision, no matter where it takes you; standing up for what you believe in, especially when your beliefs are unpopular, or simply doing the right thing even though easier options exist. The qualities of courageous people include patience, the ability to believe the unbelievable, and the guts to say “no.” People with courage are not afraid of taking an unpopular stand, nor of asking for help. They are able to forgive and move-on quickly, but can also stay the course when everyone else has abandoned ship.
Conscientiousness is defined as the personality trait of being thorough, careful, or vigilant, and it implies a desire to do a task well. Conscientious people are efficient and organized, not resting until the job is done and done right. Generally, the conscientious have strong moral principles and values. They want to do the right thing and opinions and beliefs on any subject are rarely held lightly. They also tend to be perfectionists who like to do everything “the right way.” In addition, the conscientious person is dedicated to work and is capable of intense, single-minded effort. Finally, conscientious people stick to their convictions and opinions – opposition only serves to strengthen their dogged determination.
“If you are going through hell, keep going,” Winston Churchill famously said. Indeed, to many people, perseverance is synonymous with pain and suffering but those with true grit are able to flip their perspective on perseverance 180 degrees and view struggle as a doorway to happiness. Essentially, to persevere means to start and continue steadfastly on the path toward any goal that is set, and frequently this factor alone is the difference between failure and success. However, one of the distinctions between someone who succeeds and someone who is just spending a lot of time doing something is this: practice must have purpose. That’s where long-term goals come in: they provide the context and framework in which to find the meaning and value of your long-term efforts, which helps cultivate drive, sustainability, passion, courage, stamina… grit.
In one word, resilience is “toughness” – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. In general, those who are extremely optimistic tend to show greater resilience. They approach life with a sense of humor, are able to laugh at themselves and to reframe situations and experiences to see a lighter side. Resilient people also tend to have a strong moral compass or set of beliefs that cannot be shattered. They don’t compare themselves to others, knowing instead that they are their own yardstick of success. They also see difficulties as stepping stones to transformation. They cultivate self-awareness, practice mindfulness, surrender themselves to life’s ups and downs, and adjust their attitudes and goals according to the size of the wave they are currently riding.
Passion creates excellence when mediocrity will do. Passionate people have a deep sense of purpose and are often selfless in their actions. They also know themselves – they have a clear sense of their values and beliefs, and they live by them. They generally accept themselves as imperfect and growing, seeing life as a series of choices and options. They are driven by goals, and are result-oriented. They are enthusiastic about the success of others. Finally, they take responsibility for their lives but are not afraid to ask for support.
Carol Dweck, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, talks about the power of our mindset or our beliefs, especially around challenge. We can either have a Fixed Mindset where we let failure or success define who we are, or we can have a Growth Mindset where we see setbacks as opportunities to grow and improve ourselves. Just like how we learned to walk, there are many stumbles along the way, but to reach our potential and live the life we desire, it takes practice and perseverance. We always have a choice about which view we adopt for ourselves…and it’s never too late to change.
Characteristics of a Fixed Mindset vs Characteristics of a Growth Mindset
Characteristics of a Fixed Mindset
Believe intelligence and talent are fixed
Believe effort is fruitless
Believe failures define who they are
Views feedback as personal criticism
Feel threatened by others’ success
Characteristics of a Growth Mindset
Believe intelligence and talents can be developed
Believe effort is the path to mastery
Believe mistakes are part of learning
View failure as an opportunity
Believe failures are temporary
View others’ success as inspirational
How we view ourselves, our circumstances, and the outlook we see for our future has a great deal to do in determining whether we will achieve that future desire and whether we will be happy along the journey. Developing the characteristics of grit, and embracing a Growth Mindset serve as a framework to achieve a happy and successful life!